Super Slumber: The Nerdy Way I Put Myself to Sleep

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Flying High

Like any other responsible adult, I have lost my fair share of sleep due to stress or worry. I may have tossed and turned well before adulthood, but the point of this article is not to whine about my droopy eyelids and dark circles. An effective method of putting myself to sleep developed out of a particularly stressful time in my life. I managed to slip into an unusually long “funk” after college graduation. Post-vacation blues mixed with unemployment, debt, self-doubt and family trouble added up to a freakishly uncharacteristic gloominess. I replaced sleep with video games, job applications, partying and exercise. Distractions only kept me feeling awake for so long. I would get tired and try to sleep, but stare off while my brain flickered in and out of different scenarios that ranged from hopeful to terrifying. This is when I came up with my delightfully nerdy brain tranquilizer.

All of the situations and scenarios that kept my mind active seemed to be centered on my losing control of different aspects of my life. I was either afraid of or excited by all of the different possibilities. So I decided to start imagining situations that weren’t possible. That way I wouldn’t be afraid of them. I needed to narrow my focus to slow down my thinking and stop it from ping-ponging around in my head. My solution was nerdtastic. I began to imagine that I had one superpower and a specific goal to reach using the ability. It always started with a question like “If I could fly, how would I use it to make money.”

I would choose a different combination of power and goal each night. Sometimes I would even make up something new, like the ability to see from the perspective of any set of eyes on command with the goal of helping the government fight organized crime. The scenarios could be as specific or general as I wanted and my imagination would always find some path to follow to create a story. My focus was always on the next step of the adventure. Expressing my creativity, even if just to myself, made me comfortable and content.

I thought up tales of using time-travel to go back and pick the winning lottery numbers. I imagined being able to commute by way of teleportation. One scenario had me becoming a movie star because of my ability to fly. Studios could save a fortune on special effects. Becoming a successful magician thanks to my telepathy and telekinesis or earning countless commendations as a detective because I could read suspects minds were a few others. There is an enormous number of impossibilities to imagine and some need to be revisited. I have a few favorites that I repeat, but change one detail or decision in the story.

I am happy to say that I quickly grew out of the lull that spawned this tactic. I don’t lose much sleep anymore, but there are nights when my head is rattling. I still use my nerdy brain tranquilizer to ensure I get to sleep quickly. If I can make myself focus on creating a vivid, detailed scenario, I can calm my mind enough to fall asleep through the noise of the city and the stresses of adulthood. So next time you are lying awake, stressing over how unprepared you are for the upcoming rooster’s crow, imagine being able to pause time and sleep as long as you want.

Time Travel and Running from Bulls: The Day I Visited Kilcolman Castle

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Spenser's Cattle

My senior year of college, I took a course entitled “England and Ireland in the 16th Century.” With a History professor and an English professor heading the class together, we focused on the historical significance of the relationship between the two countries and the literature that came out of the time period. Little did I know that the class would lead to stories of Irish folk band bar crawls, getting lost in the catacombs of ruined castles, battles with electric fences and running from a herd of bulls. At the end of the semester, the group would travel first to England and then to Ireland for a 3 week study abroad term. While the trip was jammed full of “great story” material, there’s one day in particular that stood out, the day we visited Edmund Spenser’s Kilcolman Castle in County Cork, Ireland.

The day before the trip to Kilcolman Castle our class met with Professor Andrew King of University College Cork (UCC). He is an English professor and expert on English Renaissance poet, Edmund Spenser. The group set out on a walking tour of Cork with the purpose of seeing it as Spenser would have. We walked the city, guided by maps of old town layouts and led by Professor King. It was a truly one-of-a-kind experience usually only offered to UCC students. This adventure assembled the setting for the story of Edmund Spenser in Ireland.

Cork Tour

Our trip to Kilcolman Castle began with an early bus trip out to Doneraile, where we met Professor King. He had mentioned during our Cork tour that the ruins were located on private property and that he had special access granted by the owners. Upon arrival, we expected to see the castle from the road with some sort of gate protecting it. Instead, we saw wire fences surrounding fields that were segmented off by lines of trees and more fences. The distant sound of mooing framed the otherwise silent moment of our arrival. Professor King reminded us that we were on private property owned by local farmers and urged us to be respectful of the crops, fences and animals.

First, our class had to hop over an electric fence that could not be disabled in any way. Some climbed over wooden posts which guided the wires and others carefully squeezed between wires. As a person who is over six feet tall, I didn’t worry about my ability to hop the fence (with a running start of course). However, one of my shorter classmates decided to attempt the feat without hesitation. She backed up a few steps and lunged toward the fence. As her foot caught the top wire, she toppled to the other side and landed in moist soil. Moments after our expert guide asked us to be respectful of the landowner’s property, one of us nearly pulls down a section of electric fence. Thankfully, our guide did not seem too put-off by the display. Surprisingly there were only two or three other people who received small stings from the wires and replied with a quick “ouch.”

Once we were all over the fence, we had to cross a large field. Nothing was planted for the first hundred yards. There was only tall grass that needed to be navigated. We reached another wire fence that ran along a row of trees at the edge of the field and we slowly hurdled this one. The crops were short, but tiptoeing along the path was necessary to avoid crushing any plants. We realized that there were cows in an adjacent field separated by a larger barrier when the mooing (and the smells that accompany them) became more prominent. As we approached the next mingling of trees and wiring, the class got its first glimpse of the castle remains.

Kilcolman

We pushed through the shrubbery of our final obstacle and emerged onto the area surrounding the ruins. Over the crest of the hill we could see the back of the castle and as we climbed more of it became visible. Distracted by the stunning contrast of this manmade stone structure against the brightest-green natural backdrop, I stepped into a large pile of cow feces. It was at this moment that I realized some of the cattle were in this section of the field as well. Professor King pointed out that the cattle were grazing elsewhere so it should be safe to explore the ruins. I fell slightly behind while I cleaned off my shoe, but quickly caught back up as the group reached the castle. It was a great deal smaller than many of the other castles we encountered during our trip. However, it was easily one of the most beautiful. The stone structure seemed to grow right out of the hill just like the trees and bushes nearby. A topping of ivy matched the rich green color of the surrounding grass.

Spenser's Castle

We were encouraged to climb a staircase inside which led to the top of what was left of the building. It had overgrown with ivy and its own patch of grass. The class gathered atop the castle remains accompanied by Professor King. He then read a poignant passage of The Faerie Queene, which Spenser wrote while living in Kilcolman. There were miles of fields in every direction with very little other manmade structure in view. I felt as though we were seeing the Irish countryside as Edmund Spenser himself would have. Connecting with a significant historical figure in such a unique way brought this surreal feeling of being in another time.

Professor King

Professor King finished reading and told us to climb back down and make our way out onto the field. We walked along the bottom of the hill toward the other end of an underground tunnel leading from the castle. Spenser had apparently used the tunnel to escape when unhappy locals attacked the castle. As we approached, Professor King pointed off in one direction and instructed us to quickly head back to the fence. The cattle had begun to move toward us and they all seemed to be bulls. The grunts, moos and pounding of hooves came closer as we retraced our steps. Seeing how close the animals were getting, we rushed along the bottom of the hill and many of us began to run for the closest fence. Luckily, as we reached the edge of the field, the bulls stayed atop the hill and glared down at us. They seemingly guarded the ruins from unwanted visitors.

Bulls

We trudged back through the fields and I helped lift smaller classmates over the electrified fence. A final “thank you” to the professor and we boarded the bus and headed back to Cork. The entire class, amazed that no one was hurt, laughed about the event for the remainder of our trip. I still consider this to be the most interesting of my adventures abroad.

[Check out a short video on the UCC class featuring Professor Andrew King]

Real XP: Influential Gamer Moments

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Headquarters Beercade Chicago, IL

Headquarters Beercade
Chicago, IL

I play video games in search of epic moments. When I complete a level or section that affects my character or my overall experience I have an emotional reaction. There is a true sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering an obstacle, but the best part of the experience is having the ability to be active within the story. Whether it’s an amazing plot twist, display of player skill or just a stunningly beautiful environment, some moments are more impactful than others. Not all of these gamer experiences happen in-game. Milestones, accomplishments and realizations in the real world can truly change a gamer. Here are a few of my own most influential gaming moments.

The first time I played a video game

During a routine visit to an aunt’s condo across town, I discovered a cabinet under the television that had a strange looking box with a stick coming out of it. I began pretending that I was a fighter pilot using the joystick to maneuver my jet. When my aunt saw me playing with the unplugged controller she showed me what it was meant for. A small tub full of cartridges with epic scenes displayed on each one was produced like a treasure chest of adventure. She plugged in the Atari 2600 and let me have at it. I began with the game she suggested, Pac-Man. I was enthralled by the ability to control a virtual character in another world. There was an instant bond between this hungry yellow circle and me. My determination to help him on his quest to eat everything and avoid being trapped by ghosts caused me to play so long that I didn’t have time to try another game before my mom decided it was time to go. I couldn’t stop thinking about the game and did everything I could to convince my mother that we needed to visit my aunt again. The next time we were there, I was smarter with my time. I tried Frogger, Pitfall, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Defender, Pole Position and many others. Needless to say, I was hooked and picked up every video game I could get my hands on after that.

The first time I beat a video game

Like any other nerdy 90’s kid, I rushed home to play video games after school. Most days, I was with a babysitter until my mom got home from work. The babysitter had a Nintendo Entertainment System. I would spend that few hours trying to get as far as I could into the games she had before the Nintendo had to be shut off. Without the ability to save, I’d have to finish the game in one sitting. The more I played, the quicker my completion of the earlier levels became. Finally, one day I reached the final world with plenty of time to spare and a hefty collection of extra lives. One level after another I failed and repeated until I advanced to the final stage. Several attempts later I defeated the final boss and reached the princess. Though there was no reward, I felt like I had truly accomplished something and I wondered if I could do the same with other games. So began my quest to conquer as many games as I could.

Winning my first multiplayer match in 007 GoldenEye

I began playing 007 GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 after my 3 step brothers had already beaten the game and played against one another for several weeks. Once I was finally allowed to join in, I started losing right away. I was very inexperienced and unskilled as I had never played a first person shooter. My step brothers were ruthless and taunted me after every loss. I was determined to improve so that I could return the favor. The four of us played as much as we were allowed. We stayed up all night on weekends, sometimes falling asleep with controllers in our hands. I began to improve and after a few weeks, I began winning! We all knew it was inevitable, but I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to laugh at my step brothers as “Rank: 1st” flashed onto my section of the screen. I may have gloated a bit too much and was beaten up, but it was worth it.

Emerging onto Hyrule Field in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

From the moment you are awakened by a fairy in your tree house, Ocarina of Time surpasses all expectations for a game from its time. The imaginative world in which the game takes place is full of beautiful landscapes and colorful characters. The contrast of the seriousness of the story and the happy, playful tone of Hyrule is just one of the reasons why this game is on many “best ever” lists (including mine). However, the moment you step out of Kokiri Forest and onto Hyrule Field, you truly realize the scope of the game. A quick pan over the landscape gives you views of the castle, Death Mountain and much of the field itself. After a quick chat with the owl, Kaepora Gaebora, you are free to roam the field and interact with its inhabitants.The excitement I felt when I discovered how much there was to this game has gone unmatched since. Every discovery and achievement made me more excited to explore. It was a world I never wanted to leave and it all began with that first step into Hyrule.

Buying my own console for the first time

I was lucky to have family and friends who played video games. I had been able to play a ton of Atari, N.E.S., Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 and PC games. I was also given a Sega Game Gear as a gift from my mother, but I had never learned about a new game system through my own discovery. There was a commercial with the tagline “don’t underestimate the power of Playstation” that I had seen several times. It was the newest and most advanced gaming hardware of the time and the games themselves looked stunning. I knew I had to have a Playstation and I knew I’d have to find a way to buy it myself. So I began asking neighbors and family members for odd jobs so that I could start saving money. I shoveled snow, raked leaves, took out garbage, cleaned cars and even sold trading cards to my friends. I don’t remember how long it took, but I remember finally having enough to split the cost of a refurbished playstation with my mom. I may have only had one game and no memory card, but it was mine!

Owning a pinball machine

I spent a fair amount of time in arcades ignoring the pinball machines for the newer games like Tekken, San Francisco Rush, Time Crisis as well as some classics. During elementary school, my stepfather made a deal with a friend that included a pinball machine. It was delivered to our house and lived in our garage among the junk he had gathered. My mother was not happy with its presence and immediately suggested he sell it. None of my siblings seemed particularly interested in it either. I decided to give the game a try. It was a generic machine with no real defining features, but it was well built and had quite a few targets with varying difficulty. After spending an hour playing and trying to earn a replay, I started to see why people enjoyed pinball. I began spending hours at a time playing after school earning every high score spot. The machine was sold after a few months, but I stopped ignoring the pinball machines in the corners of arcades.

My first LAN party

Being primarily a console gamer, I was not aware of the idea of Local Area Network gaming until a few of my best friends all bought copies of Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox. We played four-player split screen until we tired of passing the controllers. There were enough people to justify trying a system link. We had those who lived nearby bring their consoles and televisions over and we were set. It was great being able to play all together with nobody having to sit out. The group met to play regularly for about 5 years. In that time there were more than a few 12 hour sessions. I can recall finally going to bed at 7 AM with empty Dorito bags and Mountain Dew bottles strewn about among wires and batteries. We played different games on different consoles and at different locations, but we had setting up the network and getting started down to a science. Having your team sitting next to you communicating and working together was such a rewarding experience. Whether we won or lost, it was always fun, but being able to trash talk right to my friends’ faces after destroying them was by far the best part.

My biggest video game rivalry

While in college, I was introduced to Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii as a drinking game called DUI. I had never really played other games from the series, aside from the N64 version briefly. Burnout was the only game I really spent any time on from the racing genre. I thought Mario Kart was more of a loose, casual game geared towards children. However, my competitive gamer nature urged me to find ways to win. One of my best friends played with me regularly. He was much better at the game and seemed to harness some hidden knowledge that a casual player wouldn’t be able to access. Through my quest to beat him, I quickly discovered the hidden intricacies of the game. Memorizing the layout of the tracks allowed me to focus more on reacting to the other racers and the items. I learned the best way to use the items and which ones to save. Secret paths and shortcuts became visible to me and the nuances of the different characters and kart types were obvious. I finally found a character/kart combination that allowed me to keep up with my friend and I was ready to really compete. After months of playing, we were more evenly matched and the races became closer and wins more evenly distributed. We found that our matches had evolved to epic battles with tremendous displays of skill. We even noticed crowds gathering to watch us play at parties and the occasional commentator giving play-by-plays. Spectators picked sides and trash talked on our behalf. They cheered and kept our drinks full so we could focus. It was the closest I ever came to truly competitive gaming and some of my fondest memories of college revolved around Mario Kart. To this day, every time that friend and I get together, we make sure to play at least a few races.

Headquarters Beercade

As an adult, my love for video games has not dwindled and I still make time to play regularly. I get excited about new game releases and stay up-to-date on gaming news. However, I do enjoy more adult activities like going out for drinks with friends. For my birthday in December of 2012, my girlfriend invited some of our friends and took me to a place called Headquarters Beercade in Chicago. I was aware that it existed, but did not know we’d be going. I was also skeptical of the experience of combining young, drunk Chicagoans with video games, but was very pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was inviting and the crowd was interesting. A fantastic selection of beers complimented the arcade options perfectly. All of my old favorites were there. Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Simpsons, Defender, Space Invaders, Frogger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rampage, Galaxian, Ghosts n Goblins, Super Off Road, Mortal Kombat and Donkey Kong were just a portion of the cabinets that lined every wall. The games at Headquarters are free to play, the beers aren’t outrageously priced and it has tripled in size after taking over the bar next door. Now there are 4 bars, a DJ booth and a ton of new games including a whole slew of classic pinball machines, plus they are opening a second location. Headquarters is my favorite bar in Chicago and I still go and try to earn the high score on Frogger all the time. (Check out the Headquarters website)

Other notable experiences

  • Quarters on the arcade to save your spot
  • Wearing the Tanooki suit in Super Mario Bros 3
  • Finding the Golden Gun in 007 Goldeneye
  • Battle with The End in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
  • Finding shortcuts in the San Francisco Rush Arcade
  • Being laughed at by the dog in Duck Hunt
  • First broken console
  • First online gaming experience
  • “Toasty” in Mortal Kombat
  • Curb Stomping and chainsawing in Gears of War
  • Playing Time Crisis in an arcade
  • “Would you Kindly” in Bioshock
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare multiplayer
  • Midnight releases
  • Fighting a dragon in Skyrim
  • Questing online in Diablo II
  • Side by side Co-op with my best friend (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance)
  • Many, many others!

Gaming has been a big part of my life and there are many other big moments that come to mind. These are just a few of the many experiences that helped define me as a gamer and a nerd. Hopefully the industry continues to flourish and developers strive to provide experiences as impactful as these.

How I Found Faith in Atheism

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Step On Me

 

“If you don’t believe in God, how do you have faith?” A version of this question comes up in nearly every conversation in which I describe myself as an atheist to someone who is religious. For a very long time, my answer was that I didn’t need faith. My naivety about religion and resentment towards it combined with the hubris I gained in what I thought was the discovery of my own beliefs caused me to act in a more aggressive way toward religion. Not only did I not believe in any god, but I sought out any chance to proclaim it. I was distraught by the idea that I could not persuade others to agree with me (and I often tried). I am happy to have grown, learned and moved away from such presentiment toward theism.

As a child, I prayed, attended religious gatherings and feared god, but I was not religious. I was far too young to claim to be a Christian. People that I trusted and looked up to taught me that god was real and Christianity was the truth. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister and I attended sermons regularly. I remember listening to passages from the bible while sitting cross-legged in front of his recliner. When I visited some of my aunts, I was also taken to Sunday school. I accepted it at the time. Because it was extremely taboo for individuals to challenge someone’s beliefs, I did not hear any opposition. However, I was not exposed to religion at home. My mother rarely spoke of god or atheism or even spirituality. She may have just been apathetic toward the subject, but the lack of pressure to believe gave me the opportunity to make the decision myself when I was of the appropriate age to do so. My mother was baptized by my grandfather and identifies herself as a Christian.

As I grew older, the influence of others over me subsided and I began to realize that those thoughts were not my own. While talking with a close friend in high school, he brought up an argument for religion that I could not counter. He was nontheistic, but had always inspired me to question things on a deep level. I began to look beyond my negative experiences with religion. The desire for more conversations and debates on the subject motivated me to learn more about both points of view. I found comfort in coming to conclusions about myself and justifying my beliefs as independent from heritage or coercion. This was only the beginning of a process that I am still actively engaged in.

By the time I reached college I was completely committed to atheism and proud of it. I was passionate and even argumentative about it, but I soon realized that the more intelligent individuals I spoke with were put-off by my attitude toward creationism and its believers. The one-sided, uninteresting conversations that formed around my passion on the subject became tiresome. I searched for opportunities to strengthen my reasoning for my beliefs against religion. Books, magazines, articles, interviews, movies and even music were all places I looked for explanations to the questions I had not yet overcome. I enrolled in a few classes that touched on the ideas of different belief systems. Church services and Bible study sessions along with “free-thinkers” meetings and book discussions on Richard Dawkins’ works were all full of information, emotion and facts.

The most influential experience in my search for truth was my attending an ALPHA course during college. It was a 10 week program that is meant as an introduction to the Christian faith. Each session started with a meal and light discussion. The course leader then presented that week’s theme with stories, videos, infographics and bible passages. Each table was assigned a conversation guide who was given a few questions to keep the chat going within the small groups. At the end of each session, individuals were encouraged to share stories about their past or things they had learned. I was open about my atheism and it did not hinder the quality of our talks. The group was lively, sensitive, respectful and curious. They taught me a great deal and I became very close with a few people who I still call friends.

I have always considered honesty to be one of the most important characteristics of companions and friends. There is a certain beauty in allowing yourself to be transparent to a point of vulnerability. Being truthful and straightforward about my beliefs and the reason behind them has allowed me to learn so much from the discussions I have with people about religion. I refuse to take “I am right” as a stance and always hope to learn something from conversations and debates. Someone saying “I’ll pray for you” no longer makes me angry, but humbled instead. I appreciate the beliefs that others have and do not try to change their minds. Now I simply encourage people to challenge themselves to truly understand not only what they believe, but why. If you are honest and open about your faith, you have the opportunity to be challenged and learn something about yourself.

“Because I was raised that way” is not a good enough reason to spend your life committed to a religion. It is irresponsible for people to label the many belief systems out there as myth without honestly searching for support and reasoning behind the one you choose to observe. So I have a new answer to that question I started with. I no longer see atheism as a lack of faith. I have faith in humanity. Mankind’s ability to overcome obstacles is awe-inspiring and inspirational. Humans can live morally and peacefully without the pressure of religion to do so. I feel that I have a certain responsibility to be open about my atheism. I urge others to search for your own true beliefs and declare them publicly. Gain the knowledge you need to be confident in your choice and never close yourself off to the possibility of learning something new, even if it frightens you. Find something to have faith in and don’t dismiss the faith of others simply because they do not align with yours.

Completionist’s Plight: Gaming for 100%

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99%

I have been a gamer since I was able to hold an Atari joystick as a young kid. Playing video games has always been something that relaxes and comforts me. However, “gamer” is a very broad term with a number of sub-categories that describe the type of gamer that someone may be. There are terms that describe the amount you play, like “hardcore” or “casual” gamers. There are also those who play computer games (PC gamers) as opposed to playing on an Xbox, Wii or PlayStation (console gamers). There are many other gamer sub-groups, but I identify with those known as the “completionists.”

A completionist is a gamer who is compelled to achieve all that a game has to offer. These people feel the need to finish every side quest, find every collectible, earn each alternate ending and even hunt for Easter eggs. A completionist will search every nook and cranny of every level in search of that hidden piece of loot or a clue to the game’s story. Extra time is spent reading arbitrary text or interacting with uninteresting objects for fear of missing some small detail. While “completionist” hasn’t made its way into Webster’s yet, it is a common and universally understood term in the gaming community.

Game companies are very good at knowing their customer and truly understanding how and why they play. It is one of the few industries where those who create the product, those who sell the product, those who review and rank the product and those who purchase the product are mostly the same types of people. Game developers have begun to appeal to gamers who strive to conquer games in their entirety. Some developers even encourage and reward the obsessive behavior of completionists. Many games have a scale to tell you how close to one hundred percent you have come. Some have an extra-challenging difficulty level that unlocks only after you have beaten the game once. Others have in-game rewards, like costumes or skins for characters that must be unlocked. Xbox and PlayStation have the “achievement” and “trophy” systems. Rewards are given to players for finishing a specific part of the game. Over time, some rewards have become more obscure and difficult to earn.

I recall the time a friend earned an Xbox360 achievement for the game Dead Rising. The challenge was called “7 Day Survivor” and it required him to keep his character alive for seven days of game time. This amounted to over twenty-two hours of real time. The character’s health depleted, so he had to continually search out food to keep himself alive while fighting off hordes of zombies. The first time he attempted it, he fell asleep at hour fifteen and his character perished. The second time, his console froze at hour ten and he was forced to reset. He finally finished the challenge after several failed attempts and never played the game again.

There are some great rewards available to those who are willing to put forth the extra effort and you can feel quite proud of certain achievements. However, being able to tell friends the story of how you earned a difficult trophy or discovered that secret path can be the best reward you earn. For all of the great things that can come from completely finishing a game, there are also some negatives that come with it.

Completionists can obsess over accomplishing something seemingly trivial in a game. Sometimes, the reward does not appear to equal the time and effort required to complete a task. Repeated efforts to get perfect scores can lead to several hours being spent on one small area of a game. This can make more difficult games or games with lots of tiny details very frustrating to a completionist. I have had a personal struggle with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. One of my favorite games of all time also causes me a lot of stress. The sheer size of the game and amount of minute details that went into the creation of that masterpiece is seriously daunting. I have owned the game for over two years and have sunk hundreds of hours into playing it. Still, I have not even been to every major city, let alone completed the main storyline. I have had to stop playing for extended periods of time and revisit the game to keep from getting sidetracked by books in abandoned dungeons or long-winded conversations with NPCs.

Open-world games like The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, and Borderlands are becoming increasingly massive. Game developers are advertising the enormous size of the playable world, but when is a game too big for a completionist? I shudder at the idea of playing Grand Theft Auto V. It may be one of the greatest games ever created, but there are so many things to do and see that I would easily become overwhelmed. I suffice to watch a few friends play and read reviews from trusted sources. Some of my favorite gaming experiences in recent memory are from playing games that are more linear than open-world. When there is a specific task to accomplish, you can focus on finding those hidden items or completing side quests without the stress of deviating far from the intended path. The Bioshock games, Bastion, the Lego games and Dishonored are a few that come to mind. You are playing one story line with only a few different options on how to play, but there are also hidden items and other rewards for sleuthing that fulfill my completionist tendencies.

Open-world games are definitely my favorite type. They appeal to the part of me that started playing in the first place. The creation of an exciting, interesting world that I can become completely engulfed in is (to me) the greatest accomplishment that a creator can achieve. It is hard to know I have to pass on some magnificent games because I simply don’t have the time or energy to invest in the completion. Video games are becoming more and more innovative as the industry matures and I am so very excited for what comes next. I only wish that I had been handed an Xbox One controller as a child instead of an Atari joystick. It would have been great to run home from school to explore Los Santos or slay dragons with miles of digital land to comb for treasure.

More Than Passion: Why I am a True Nerd

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“I am a nerd.” I’m not ashamed to say it out loud during ice-breaker activities at work or school, or throw it into conversations with strangers at parties. The truth is, “nerd” doesn’t carry the same lopsided weight that it used to. There was a time when nerds weren’t open about it, when bullies used that word as a weapon. I was afraid of being a nerd. While nerds may have been stereotyped as smart (though I always thought of “geeks” as the smart kids), the name also carried connotations of being socially awkward or immature. At an age when acting mature or “grown-up” makes you cool, fantasizing about being a wizard that rides a dinosaur to school didn’t exactly earn you a letterman’s jacket. However, I had a uniquely fortunate childhood.

I didn’t grow up with a lot of money or live in an exciting city. I wasn’t born with good looks or athletic ability. My parents weren’t happily married and always around. What I did have, was a mix of experiences that allowed me to truly mature early on. I was aware that one day I’d be ahead of the game and all the people who thought they were being “grown-up” would realize that they had wasted their time. The hard part was waiting for that day to come.

As I grew up I realized that I was different from other kids in a lot of ways. I didn’t find joy in the same things others did. I often contemplated things beyond my immediate surroundings and put little effort into changing what people thought about me. When I discovered that others thought of me as weird, I became introverted instead of changing in order to fit in. I decided that I would have been better off in a different world. This made it very easy for me to become enveloped in the fiction I consumed. When I read books, I imagined myself alongside the protagonist on his adventure. When I read comics, I drew in extra pages that depicted me interacting with the characters. When I played video games I became the character that I controlled. I found it simple to suspend my belief in the real world and truly become part of the fantasies that I experienced.

Were I a creature other than human, my inability to adapt to social normalcy might have been detrimental. Luckily for me, the human race has transcended the need for conformity to that degree. I could be weird or different and still live comfortably. I had all the support I needed from the people who mattered most. I had a wonderful, hard-working mother who sacrificed a great deal to provide my sister and me with a loving home environment. I was given enough freedom to become an individual, and enough guidance to know right from wrong. However, the greatest thing my mother gave me was honesty. Even though I was a child, she was very candid about the struggles she had with money, food, family and my father. I won’t go into detail here, but things were not easy for her and she didn’t hide it from me. By sharing what made her life difficult with my sister and me, my mother also showed us how happy we made her and how important we were to her.

I surely don’t mean to be long-winded. I simply want to express in detail how I came to embrace my nerdiness. As tough as some parts of it seemed to me, I am very grateful for my childhood. I resisted the pressure to fit in while growing up and remained true to myself. The video games, comic books, cartoons, movies and other tools I used to keep myself busy while my peers matured are very dear to me. There are countless individuals out there with stories just like mine. People who can be proud to call themselves nerds.

I can understand the frustration that some nerds have with certain people who call themselves nerdy. The word has seemingly been hijacked to serve a new purpose. Being passionate about a certain topic makes you a nerd these days. I think of nerdiness as more of a social survival tactic. It is deeper than passion. Being a nerd means that you focus on things that make you happy instead of looking for approval and acceptance from others. I believe doing so at a younger age shows maturity. This is why “nerd” has been adopted by more groups and more widely accepted as a positive descriptor.

We love to hear underdog success stories. All true nerds are sleepers. So when someone calls themselves a “sports nerd,” perhaps they are saying a little more than “I’m a jock.” Maybe they are saying that following their favorite team is what got them through a tough time in their life. I’m happy to be a nerd and I’m proud to have become the person I am because of my nerdiness.

Podcast Porridge: Why I Listen to Podcasts at Work

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I began my first full-time job after college with gusto and excitement, proud to join and contribute to productive society. However, the wind in my sails was abruptly diminished when my job description and work environment both changed dramatically. Happy to simply have a job when so many of my fellow graduates were not so lucky, I started searching for a way of padding the monotony of my work by consuming media while at my desk. I noticed that I quickly exhausted my music collection and couldn’t realistically watch movies or television shows and do real work at the same time. I discovered the “not too hot, not too cold” porridge that is the podcast. I had heard the term “podcast” for years and never really understood the point. The idea of recorded internet radio sessions didn’t exactly call out to me at first, but as I began to work through the massive backlog of The Nerdist episodes, I found that I could add humor and interesting conversation to the workday without having to actually talk to anyone I worked with, which is a relief when working at a place where the pressure of propriety can keep you from saying what you really think.

The Nerdist was the first podcast I encountered. I had heard about it through Chris Hardwick’s involvement in Attack of the Show on the (unfortunately no-longer-existent) G4 T.V. network. I started with a few episodes from the first days of the show and worked my way through a good chunk of the recordings. I had already enjoyed Hardwick as a host from his other work and found the riffing between him and his co-hosts, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray hilarious. Some of The Nerdist’s guests like David Tennant, Tim Levine and Stan Lee are considered nerd royalty while celebrities as big as Tom Hanks, Christopher Lloyd, Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart also sit down with the crew. But where The Nerdist really shines is in the comedy realm. The number of top-tier comics that The Nerdist crew has interviewed is staggering. From Tina Fey and Seth Myers to Bill Burr, Tom Green, Drew Carey, Maria Bamford and Craig Ferguson. The amount of content that the trio provided was almost overwhelming at first. Being the completionist that I am, I got nervous about the idea of listening to every episode. I didn’t want to miss a reference for fear of watering down the effect of a callback. However, I now knew of a wonderful new format that I could explore without disrupting my workflow.

So I was sold on the idea of podcasts. I learned so much about the hosts and the interviewees that I felt like I had become part of their conversations. I began to wonder if any other comedians had ventured into podcasting. I was pleasantly surprised. WTF with Marc Maron was wildly successful (and truly delightful to listen to) and Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies had a huge following. Kevin Smith, Bill Burr, Adam Carolla, Pete Holmes and countless other great personalities had been churning out content on a regular basis. Some for years already. I began to search for podcasts with a topic that interested me specifically. Of course, video games came to mind first. I had to look no further than a few clicks on Nerdist.com to find Kumail Nanjiani’s The Indoor Kids.

The Indoor Kids stuck with me right away. It was a fairly new show with only one episode a week, so the idea of listening to every past episode was not as daunting as some other podcasts. I had seen Kumail Nanjiani’s standup and loved the idea of a nerdy comic reviewing video games. The show had a great start with Ali Baker as the co-host. However, when Ali left the show and Kumail’s wife, Emily V. Gordon took over as co-host, The Indoor Kids became something really special. The intelligent, artistic nature of both individuals mixed with the interesting juxtaposition of backgrounds made for a very unique experience. He is Pakistani born, a lifelong nerd, an actor and comedian. She is a former therapist from Winston-Salem, N.C. who now blogs, writes and produces. The Indoor Kids offers a very unique and interesting angle on gaming culture. The duo is not bogged down by the pressure of being a top video game news source, trusted game reviewers or even gaming experts. They simply both love to play video games. Most episodes use video games as the frame of the conversation, but end up digging deeper into the psychology of gamers and gaming. The podcast takes full advantage of the network that the two hosts have been able to build through their other work. They have featured other comedians, writers, producers, game developers, video game journalists and nerdy celebrities as well as documenting their attendance at conventions like E3, PAX and Comic-Con.

While podcasting may still be “outside of the box” media, its popularity has grown significantly over the past few years and some are finding success and even careers in producing this form of content. There is an outrageous number of podcasts out there. The shows range in topic, frequency, length, popularity and seriousness. You can listen to a podcast with a topic as broad as video games or as specific as after-shows dedicated to a weekly television program. There are some that are hosted by comedians or intellectuals and others hosted by imaginative kids (The Mutant Season hosted by 11 year old Gil). You can even find narrative podcasts that tell a story like “We’re Alive: A Zombie Story of Survival.”

Whether you need something to listen to at work, on your commute or during a long run, just pick a topic that interests you and try a few podcasts. I’ve already suggested a few here. Nerdist.com has a huge selection of podcasts and you can always check iTunes. Maybe you’ll even start recording your own.